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COVID-19 patients drive up emergency room numbers

Historically, the emergency department at University Hospital experiences a lull during December and January. A spike in new cases changed that.

SAN ANTONIO — Dr. Ralph Riviello never wants to see another year like 2020. He's worked in emergency medicine for 26 years. The coronavirus is, perhaps, the most challenging healthcare crisis he's ever faced.

He is chair of Emergency Medicine at Ut Health San Antonio and University Hospital.

"The E.D. is usually a hectic place for a little bit," he said. "More crowded."

December and January are, historically, slower months for his staff. They still deal with the trauma patients of the day, emergency health ailments, and flu patients. Their lull no longer exists.

"What we've seen a change in is the number of COVID patients that are coming into the emergency room,"  Riviello said. "those have increased over the past two weeks."

According to the emergency medicine leader, their swell of patient admissions is surpassing their peak seasons. He said the E.R. is busiest during the spring and summer.

He said patient admissions from the emergency room are typically between 25-26 percent.  In recent days, that number crept up as high as 34 percent.

"Those are the cases we're seeing where disease is being spread, and people are catching COVID  and giving it to their immediate family members and others," he said.

The spread, he said, comes from holiday gatherings like Thanksgiving. Now, health care workers are concerned the number of cases will climb with Christmas and New Year celebrations.  

"We have bed capacity, but that bed capacity gets a little tighter and tighter each day," he said.

Riviello said precautions for the coronavirus is keeping flu cases down. He said they've logged one pediatric case this season.

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